Author(s): Hillhouse EW, Grammatopoulos DK
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Abstract Premature birth is the major source of perinatal death and disability. Furthermore, the intrauterine health of the baby is important for preventing certain adult diseases. However, the molecular mechanisms driving the onset of human labour remain uncertain, although several key players have been identified. It is becoming clear that there are many pathways to parturition in humans. Stress peptides, in particular placental corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and possibly the related peptide urocortin, appear to play important roles throughout pregnancy. Plasma CRH is a predictor of the duration of human gestation. During most of pregnancy, CRH, acting via specific CRH receptor subtypes, plays a 'protective' role by promoting myometrial quiescence via the generation of cAMP and cGMP, and upregulation of nitric oxide synthase expression. At term, myometrial contractility is enhanced by a complex series of molecular switches, involving the upregulation of oxytocin receptor expression and crosstalk between the oxytocin and CRH receptors. This results in protein kinase C-induced phosphorylation of specific CRH receptor subtypes, with subsequent desensitization and a shift in the intracellular microenvironment to enhance contractility. CRH/urocortin, via specific receptor isoforms, is now able to activate Gq and potentially enhance the oxytocin-driven generation of inositol triphosphate. In addition, CRH/urocortin, via specific CRH receptor subtypes, may generate prostaglandins from the fetal membranes and decidua, play a role in placental vasodilatation and participate in fetal adrenal function and organ maturation. These peptides and receptors are phylogenetically ancient and well preserved across species. They may have evolved as a mechanism to protect against the 'stress' of premature birth.
This article was published in Reproduction
and referenced in Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy